Do I Count?
I was born and raised in Kolkata, when it was still called Calcutta, into an educated middle class family. An only child, I was born male. I think I must have been 7 years old when I started cross dressing. I would wear my mother’s saree, get reprimanded, act guilty, and go back to draping the saree as soon as my parents left.
The teachers were worried about my behaviour at school. I was the weirdo of the neighbourhood. “Why don’t you take your child to a doctor, he is not like other normal kids,” was a comment my mother was used to. But no scolding, beating, coaxing could change me. I guess I was not an easy child to raise.
My utter disregard of gender norms that everyone else seamlessly fit into was not taken well. I became the butt of many jokes. And when it went beyond verbal hazing, I could not handle it. They say a little ragging hurt no one and builds character. In my case, I think it was the foundation of some of the very crucial life choices I have made. I am a trans woman today, saving for my sexual reassignment surgery. I am employed as a training officer at India HIV/AIDS Alliance. Working with my community members who are highly vulnerable to HIV has been a fulfilling career choice, but getting here was not easy.
As a child, I thought I was the only person like this in the whole world. But when I met more trans sisters, my perception changed. After finishing my education, I was quite determined to do something for people like me around the world facing similar discrimination because of their alternative gender identities. Music has been a huge source of positive energy in my life especially songs of Rabindranath Tagore. Working on films on transgender issues brought more insights into the issues my community faces.
Recently India saw its first transgender news reader in Tamil Nadu. A huge feat for my community that rarely finds work in the mainstream job market. It’s a good feeling to see someone represent my community on the screen, not as a joke but doing serious important work. However, the legal recognition of the third gender is being reconsidered by the new government which is worrying. With every stride, comes another obstacle, which strengthens our resolve further.
I know it will take time to change the scenario; it will take time to bring more effective trans-specific interventions in HIV/AIDS programming. I am still hopeful for a tomorrow where no trans person will have to face difficulty in order to receive basic services to live a better and dignified life. Unless we all count, there cannot be an equal and just world for any of us. No society can progress when a part of it is suppressed.
The author of this post, Amitava Sarkar, is Training Officer at India HIV/AIDS Alliance in New Delhi.